Jenny Slate's role on Big Mouth and Kristen Bell's character on Central Park will both be recast

By Robyn Merrett
June 24, 2020 06:50 PM
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Jeff Vespa/WireImage. Inset: Apple TV Plus, Netflix

Big Mouth's Jenny Slate and Central Park's Kristen Bell are stepping down from their roles on the animated series, which will both recast the characters with a Black or mixed race actor.

Slate, 38, revealed the news on Wednesday, explaining that she, a White woman, "can no longer" play the role of Missy, a biracial character on the animated Netflix series created by Nick Kroll.

"I have come to the decision today that I can no longer play the character of 'Missy' on the animated TV show Big Mouth. At the start of the show, I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play 'Missy' because her mom is Jewish and White — as am I. But 'Missy' is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people," Slate wrote on Instagram.

Slate went on to say that her original reasoning was "flawed," explaining "it existed as an example of societal white supremacy, and that in me playing 'Missy,' I was engaging in an act of erasure of Black people."

"Ending my portrayal of 'Missy' is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions," Slate continued.

While Slate admitted that she "can't change the past" in regards to "mistakes" she's made when it comes to her career in comedy, she can "take accountability" for her choices.

"I will continue to engage in meaningful anti-racist action, to be thoughtful about the messages in my work, to be curious and open to feedback, and to do my best to take responsibility for the ways that I am part of the problem," Slate continued.

"Most importantly, though, to anyone that I've hurt: I am so very sorry. Black voices must be heard. Black Lives Matter," she added.

Jenny Slate, Missy
Rich Fury/Getty

Kroll, 42, also announced Slate's decision on Twitter, writing: "After thoughtful discussion with us and our Black collaborators, Jenny Slate has decided, and we wholeheartedly agree, that Missy on Big Mouth should be voiced by a Black actor."

Missy and her parents in Big Mouth
Netflix

"We sincerely apologize for and regret our original decision to cast a White actor to voice a biracial character. We made a mistake, took our privilege for granted, and we're working hard to do better moving forward," Kroll continued.

"We are proud of the representation that Missy has offered cerebral, sensitive women of color, and we plan to continue that representation and further grow Missy's character as we recast a new Black actor to play her. We thank Jenny for her decision and for creating with us an inspiring compassionate, and very human character. We look forward to being able to explore Missy's story with even greater authenticity in the years to come," Kroll added, signing the statement with his name and the show's fellow creators, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett.

Also on Wednesday, Bell and Josh Gad announced in a statement shared to their respective Instagram accounts that the actress will no longer be playing the role of Molly Tillerman, who is mixed race, on his Apple TV+ series Central Park.

"Kristen Bell is an extraordinary talented actress who joined the cast of Central Park from nearly the first day of the show's development — before there was even a character for her to play — and she has since delivered a funny, heartfelt, and beautiful performance," the statement begins.

"But after reflection, Kristen, along with the entire creative team, recognizes that the casting of the character of Molly is an opportunity to get representation right — to cast a Black or mixed race actress and give Molly a voice that resonates with all of the nuance and experiences of the character as we've drawn her," it continues.

While Bell, 39, will no longer play Molly moving forward, she "will continue to be a part of the show in a new role," the statement says, "but we will find a new actress to lend her voice to Molly."

"We profoundly regret that we might have contributed to anyone's feeling of exclusion or erasure," it reads. "Black people and people of color have worked and will continue to work on Central Park but we can do better. We're committed to creating opportunities for people of color and Black people in all roles, on all our projects — behind the mic, in the writers room, in production, and in post-production. Animation will be stronger for having as many voices, experiences, and perspectives as we can possibly bring into the industry."

It concludes: "Our shop and our show will be better for respecting the nuances and complexity around the issue of representation and trying to get it right."

Bell, who starred with Gad on Disney's Frozen, also addressed her decision to step down from the role in her caption.

"This is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity. Here is one of mine. Playing the character of Molly on Central Park shows a lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege. Casting a mixed race character with a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed race and Black American experience," she said. "It was wrong and we, on the Central Park team, are pledging to make it right. I am happy to relinquish this role to someone who can give a much more accurate portrayal and I will commit to learning, growing and doing my part for equality and inclusion."

In addition to Bell and Gad, the cast also includes Tituss Burgess, Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr. and Kathryn Hahn. The animated musical comedy follows Owen Tillerman (Odom Jr.) and his family, who "live an unconventional life in New York's bustling Central Park, which Owen manages. Now, they'll have to fend off a wealthy hotel heiress who wants to turn the park into condos," the show's website reads.

As for Big Mouth, the series — which first premiered on Netflix in 2017 — follows animated character Andrew (John Mulaney) as he navigates through puberty. The show has three seasons and also stars Maya Rudolph, Jordan Peele, Gina Rodriguez and Jason Mantzoukas.

Netflix announced last July that the series had been renewed for three more seasons, Variety reported. The season 4 premiere date has not yet been revealed.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • •National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.